Posts from 14th May 2000

May 00


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BRIDGET ST JOHN – “Ask Me No Questions” (from the album Ask Me No Questions)
Eight-minute hypno-folk, repetitive and heavily sedated: it’s incredibly fragile and pretty, and there’s an attractive thickness to her voice (Nico Drake, anyone?). But that’s not why it’s here. Four or so minutes into the song, the music starts to fade, and in its place swell up the sounds of middle England: birds singing, dogs barking, church bells, the rustle of trees in country lanes. For a whole minute-and-a-half, they replace the song: it’s surprising, hokey, and absolutely beautiful. Right now I can think of no other piece of music which gives me such a powerful, physical sense of time and place.


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CURRENT 93 – “Hourglass (For Diana)” (from the compilation Calling For Vanished Faces)
Current 93’s music’s been described as “Death Folk”: bang on. “Hourglass” is a setting to music of a poem by minor Carolingian poet John Hall, and the poem, like the song, moves from relative calm to frenetic, maddened disgust at man and his station. Your position on C93 is very much determined by your position on David Tibet’s voice. He shrieks and capers like a possessed Lord Fauntleroy, at once ridiculous and savagely intense: like a lot of underground artists, Current 93 require a certain suspension of disbelief, a willingness to meet them at least halfway and not judge them by whatever standards you conventionally judge music – or more specifically, musician’s attitudes and postures – by. Once you’ve gone that distance, the rewards can be enormous: “Hourglass” is a striking piece, Tibet spitting out Hall’s poetry against a backdrop of nagging guitar and whirling, sawing flute and strings. By the time he gets to “A ship of Glasse, toss’d in a Sea of terrour”, he’s screaming, the strings are too, and if you’re not sold on what the band does so will you be.


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JULIAN COPE – “Reynard The Fox” (from the album Fried)
Simply put, “Reynard The Fox” is a foxhunting protest song which turns into a Christ allegory, then into a vision of rural middle England, then turns that vision into an image of onstage self-disembowellment, and then descends into crazed and surprisingly convincing hippie thrash-skronk. Naturally Julian Cope ended his live sets with it for years, often extending his fucked-up prog-pop fairytale for fifteen-plus minutes: on one notorious occasion his self-identification with Reynard went that bit too far and he carved open his chest with the mikestand. This-all may not sound like an ideal formula for great pop, but nevertheless “Reynard The Fox” is exactly that for its first three electrifying minutes, the screaming “Fried! Fried! Take it in the side!” hook one of the scariest and catchiest Cope’s ever penned. “Reynard” is the most explicit statement of a theme which runs through his music – that England, and especially the English countryside, is a wilder and more savage place than we generally suspect. It would be stretching things considerably too far to call Cope the Ted Hughes of pop, but certainly “Reynard”, on the surface acid-fuelled proto-crusty babble, taps something of that poet’s viscera and punch, the sense of opening up dark veins under England and letting something messy and vital flow out.


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Momus is planning to compile and curate the ‘electro-epic’ NY scene, in the same way apparently as Brian Eno did with No New York, which thanks to the magic of MP3 I finally got to hear (review to follow: it’s, well, it’s…not very good, actually). Could rule, could be fool: this “post-Beck sense of irony” he talks about I find slightly worrying, since I frankly find Beck’s sense of irony as subtle as someone stamping repeatedly on your foot, and just as entertaining.


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THE FALL – “Leave The Capital”(from the mini-album Slates)
Everything The Fall recorded in those days stank of England, an England unmasked, the country as it would look if you threw paint-stripper over it and stood back and waited. Their first single, “Repetition”, had begun the diagnosis: thereafter the band stayed put, got harsher and sharper, more accurate. “Exit this Roman shell!”: with every year that passes, The Fall’s existence seems to matter more.

No, actually, that’s not right: they’ve made a lot of good records since, but what matters are their first five years, up with Beefheart as pop music’s most sustained and bloodyminded example of willed world-building. Of course it helped that they rocked so hard and that (for example) “Leave The Capitol”‘s looping rabbit-punch riffs and kit-down-the-stairs drums are so addictive: the sense of single-minded instrumental tightness was absolutely necessary to establish the idea of The Fall as an almost military unit, dedicated to seeding rock with Mark E Smith’s peculiar and particular truths. And it worked. The omnipresent dissonance of today’s alternative pop – the gnostic lyrics, the taut and jagged instrumentation, the creeping overall notion that something somewhere has gone terribly wrong – is unthinkable without The Fall. A few more bands could have profitably picked up on Smith’s eagle-eyed humour and his hatred of musical pomposity, but he’s had enough secret beneficial effect to justify his expanded head whatever.


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ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION – “Real Great Britain” (from the album Community Music)
And no, they can’t take a joke. Racist fucksticks at Rolling Stone reducing Asians to curry waiter stereotypes just illustrate why ADF – straightahead political and proud of it – do what they do. Great thing is, you don’t need the politics to enjoy them, but you can’t escape them either. The rapping, a clumsy gabble, is the worst thing about them: the music meanwhile is endlessly fresh, surprising and messy, a gorgeous clatter, a proud sonic blurt. Rafi’s Revenge was the best drum’n’bass album for ages, cheap and instant, and free of the clenched-arse metropolitan posturings that genre had got stuck in. “Real Great Britain” is more of the same (but what a same!). No need to swerve now. Everything’s in overdrive, the country gets neatly described as a “shoegazer nation”, and then the song breaks open into a 20-second burst of rapturous Bunnymen-psych guitar. And Rolling Stone preferred Terris?

RADIOHEAD – “Airbag”

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RADIOHEAD – “Airbag” (oh look, you know where it’s from)
And so to Josh. Yes, that is a Radiohead song in my Top Ten. Yes, I do like it, certainly much more than anything else on OK Computer. The reasons I enjoy it, I think, may be pretty much the reasons Josh dislikes it: it’s dryness, its lack of flow, it’s jittery refusal to rock. One reason I wanted to listen to OKC again was that a lot of the commentary on it stressed how thick and original the sounds the band and producer use were, and as someone who likes interesting sounds I decided the record was worth another chance. And lo, the jerky drums and staccato bass on “Airbag” are excellent, much more sonically thrilling than Greenwood’s dense fretstuff (though the bit where he sounds like he’s about to swing into the Shamen’s “Jesus Loves Amerika” is pretty cool). And it’s a really catchy song, too.

I also think the first-on-the-album placing of “Airbag” raises it in my eyes: if I listen to OK Computer all the way through then Thom Fatigue sinks in very quickly – around halfway through “Paranoid Android”, to be exact. My track-at-a-time policy this time isn’t singles-fan dogma, it’s simply that one song is all I can take.

(I have a lot more to say about Radiohead, but as Josh cannily surmises I’m saving it up for a big article. So there.)

Let’s try again: blogger just ate a massive post where I discussed

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Let’s try again: blogger just ate a massive post where I discussed Fred‘s excellent commentary on the English Tape. In summary:

1. Tape not a summation of what it is to be English, but of how pop has approached the qn.
2. Side 1 is the Q-approved version of pop ‘Englishness’: slightly ironic, mostly white, poppy and clever, melodic. Side 2 will be more fragmentary and diversionary. I hope.
3. England has a lot more different local identities than you’d expect from a small country. But every country looks different from the inside and homogenous from the outside.
4. I chose England rather than Britain as the focus because in a devolutionary era the qn of what it is to be English is being asked more and more loudly.
5. It would be possible for someone outside America to make an American tape (see comment #3) – but such a tape would end up being the history of pop itself.
6. Fred’s blog rocks.

Title For Your Purity Test

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Title For Your Purity Test: “a new culture that seems to have exploded in the recent years” – lazy semi-literate tat, jealous of youth, same old jokes since 1992, etc. I’m just annoyed because I only got 13% or so, which isn’t very pop. Link half-inched from the dead good pearls…, whose parent site has vanished into thin air – hopefully just for a redesign as there was some good stuff on there.